Two phenomena, vaguely related. The one, a superb demonstration of the power of really clear thinking; the other, a demonstration of … well, I’m still not sure what.
A visit to the Abstract Expressionist exhibition at the RA was not a terribly stimulating half-hour for me. Two things stood out: I discovered, as I had suspected I might, that I rather liked the Jackson Pollock paintings. The large Guggenheim mural was not to my taste but many of the others were ‘pleasing to the eye’. Applying my test for ‘good’ art - would I like to see it again? - I found that with many of Pollock’s canvases, ‘Yes I would’.
Mark Rothko was a different matter. I remember the fuss some years ago, when it was discovered that a Rothko had been hung upside down in some gallery or another. ‘How could they tell?’ was the refrain. Rothkos are not displeasing to the eye, but whether one really wants to see a room full of smudgy rectangles of different colours and call it ‘art’ is a moot point. The curators at the RA had added the following words by way of explanation:
…Rothko’s iconic paintings of the 1950s and ‘60s epitomize his perennial quest to formulate abstract embodiments of powerful human emotions: as he once memorably put it, "tragedy, ecstasy, doom'. Instantly recognizable…"
Instantly recognizable? Hmm.
But contrast Rothko and his smudgy rectangles with the most beautiful, clear and un-mathematical demonstration of one of the foundations of mathematics, the theorem of Pythagoras. This was contained in Roger Penrose’s massive door-stop of a book Road to Reality (a Christmas present). The book’s subtitle is ‘A complete guide to the laws of the universe’. The right-angled triangle rule that the square of the side opposite the right angle is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides was drummed into us at school – rightly so. We even learned how to prove it using Euclidean geometry although I could never remember how to reproduce that proof. Penrose, using repeated squares of three different sizes, was able to show, just by eye, that the law is true for any shape of right-angled triangle. This was so beautifully clear that no mathematics was needed to understand it.
We’re used to seeing pigeons or magpies perching on our rooftops, but herons? What a wonderful sight! The great wingspan when he takes to the air is like something from a science fiction film. I assume there is a pond in the area with goldfish or some other juicy titbit; I just hope that the owner of said food supply does not resort to extreme measures to preserve his fish population.
The Shortest Day
At 10:44 GMT today, just a few minutes ago, the Sun reached its southernmost declination; the angle of the tilt of the axis of the Earth from the Sun reached its maximum, and the north pole passed the point of its furthest distance from the Sun. Today is the shortest day; winter begins, but at least from now on, the days start getting longer. It certainly is good to know that we can now look forward to the summer of 2017, whatever that might bring...
I've been MacBooked!
Well, no-one could say that I didn’t give those wretches at Microsoft fair warning… Considerably more than a year after downloading Windows 10 on to my desktop commuter – more than a year! – it is still not working and crashes whenever I click the start button. Now, it is decommissioned, unplugged, and will probably be dumped; I had planned to destroy it with a sledge-hammer, but someone pointed out that it was the software not hardware that was the villain of the piece...
The Macbook is wonderful. It is, of course, all quite alien after 25 years learning how to operate a PC, but very intuitive, and I have a (printed) book to help me. And the Mac is full of surprises: I had to print a page. No setting up, I pressed ‘print’, it found a printer on the network and printed! No fuss, no hangups, no nothing. It just worked!
And after an initial disappointment with the way Outlook displays in the Mac – with the calendar not visible in the mail window – I find that not only does the Mac calendar repeat all entries on to my telephone (and vice-versa), the Mac Mail is simpler and far less fussy and I can import all my folders from Outlook.
Of course, there is a downside; it is seriously expensive, but that expense is expected to be recouped in spades from time not spent buggering about with operating systems that do not operate, printers that do not print and email servers that do not serve. I have seen the future, and it has a large white apple on it…
A still of Mick Jagger and Anita Pallenberg from Performance, printed in the newspaper recently, revived an ancient memory…
It was 1965 in Rome; the band had had two one-month contracts to play every night at the Piper Club on Via Tagliamento. We were now looking for more work, and someone had arranged a photo-shoot in a park for publicity. We spoke very little Italian, so it was frequently impossible to know what was really going on. Anyway, this young beauty appeared; very attractive, blond hair, seriously short skirt, and was instructed to drape herself around us for the pictures. The bass player Roy looked at me, and I at him, as if to say, ‘I’ll fight you for her…’ It was decided that we would all go to the beach. This was starting to get very interesting…
We piled into two cars and were on our way with high expectations. But, the world turned… As the car I was in rounded a corner, we saw that car No 1, the inevitable Fiat Cinquecento, had impacted something or another, and half the rear end was hanging off exposing the engine. That was the end of our trip to the beach, and we never saw the girl again. Until a few years later that is, when I noticed some publicity shots for Performance. I knew it was her in a clinch with Mick Jagger, because she had such a memorable name - Anita Pallenberg. Very much later, I saw her in an episode of Ab Fab.
I tried to explain to someone recently regarding my total lack of fame in the music business, that the best we could say was that we rubbed shoulders with those who rubbed shoulders with the rich and famous; occasionally, we did. I have trouble believing that it happened 51 years ago…
Welcome to the Mirli Books blog written by Peter Maggs